January 29, 1928 – June 17, 2018
SOUTH BEND — After a long, extraordinary life, Timothy O’Meara died at home of complications related to Parkinson’s Disease surrounded by his family. He was predeceased by his wife of more than 50 years, Jean (Fadden). O’Meara became the first lay Provost of the University of Notre Dame in 1982 and oversaw a time of significant expansion and academic growth.
O’Meara earned his master’s degree at the University of Cape Town, South Africa and his doctorate at Princeton University. At the age of 28, he published Introduction to Quadratic Forms on the interface between number theory and algebra; an Amazon reviewer wrote “anyone who has heard O’Meara lecture will recognize in every page of this book the crispness and lucidity of the author’s style.”
While on the Princeton faculty, he was contacted by Father Theodore Hesburgh, then President of Notre Dame, about coming to the campus in South Bend, to help build the prominence of the Mathematics Department at Notre Dame. After a long luncheon at a Manhattan restaurant, he accepted Father Hesburgh’s invitation.
On arrival at Notre Dame in 1962, O’Meara chose a modest office in the newly opened Mathematics Building. The office was halfway down the hall on the third floor—
hard to get to and small—but as a mathematician it appealed to him because it sat in perfect symmetry directly above the front entrance—the only office in the building that was symmetrically aligned. From here, the animated voices of mathematicians echoed down hall as they discussed fields and theories and shared gossip. In the last years and days of his life, many of these same mathematicians still joined him in frequent lighthearted conversations that greatly lifted his spirits.
At Notre Dame, O’Meara advanced his work in work in number theory, linear groups and quadratic forms and developed a new foundation for the isomorphism theory. His writings included The Classical Groups and K-Theory, co-authored with Alexander J. Hahn, professor of mathematics emeritus at Notre Dame and numerous papers. His academic excellence was recognized by the University with his appointment to the distinguished McKenna Chair and by naming the mathematics library in his honor. He served on the Board of Trustees for many years and was a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
In the 1960’s and 70’s, O’Meara chaired the Mathematics Department, and enjoyed teaching freshmen who brought out the showman in him. He later coached four of his grandchildren through their freshman math classes and they were equally delighted by his boundless enthusiasm for his subject. His doctoral students continue to carry on his tradition of research and teaching.
As Provost with his wife Jean by his side, he was an energetic advocate of the accomplishments of Notre Dame faculty and students from every School and Department. He earned the respect and friendship of countless colleagues and fellow administrators. With the provost office team and Fr. Hesburgh, Jean and Timothy, traveled the world forging relationships with academic and religious leaders, particularly in China following the cultural revolution.
A charismatic personality, O’Meara’s passion for logical analysis was equal to his spontaneity, humor, and intuition. With relentless curiosity, he moved elegantly between the worlds of human relationships and visualized mathematics. After his retirement, he and Jean traveled to France and Italy, and spent time on the shores of Lake Michigan with their children, grandchildren, and his brother Patrick O’Meara, Vice President Emeritus of Indiana University. One of his favorite spots was the stark and beautiful landscape of Death Valley Nevada, where he enjoyed walking across the salt flats. He and Jean spent many long summer evenings dining on their patio and talking.
In addition to his brother, Timothy is survived by his children: Maria, Timothy and Bridget (Hoban), Jeannie, Katy, Eileen, a brother Daniel and sister-in-law Lorraine, niece Suzanne, eight grandchildren one great grandchild and his dear friend Kathleen Cannon.
Visitation will be from 8:30-9:20am Friday, June 22 at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart on the Notre Dame campus where the Christian Mass of Burial will be celebrated at 9:30am, Rev. Edward Malloy, CSC, officiating. Burial will follow at Cedar Grove Cemetery where he will be laid to rest next to his wife.
Memorial Donations in Timothy’s memory may be made to: St. Adalbert School, C/O Joe Miller, 519 South Olive St., South Bend, IN 46619.
McGann Hay Funeral Homes, University Chapel assisted with the arrangements